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Should we control Genetically Modified Organisms? Tell us!

​Whangarei District Council is planning to bring rules into its District Plan that control how Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are used in this District.
Updated: 28/07/2014 4:39 p.m.
Image of a cow.

It is coordinating its proposed plan change with one being introduced by the Far North District Council and both organisations are calling for the public’s input on the proposed changes.

The proposed plan change relates only to outdoor uses of GMOs i.e., their release to the environment or outdoor field trials. It does not include the use of GMOs in contained facilities, such as hospitals, universities, or research institutions, nor to medicines or food products that do not contain viable GMOs.

The proposed plan change divides GMO activities into levels of risk and allocates increasing levels of control as potential risks increase.

It would allow veterinary vaccines that use GMOs to be used without permits, but outdoor field trials would require a consent from Council, and releasing GMOs to the environment would be prohibited.

Discretionary activities (outdoor field trials) would need to meet standards, including bonds to cover the costs of any economic or environmental damage caused by GMOs and the costs of on-going monitoring requirements.

“The plan change takes a precautionary approach, matching the risk posed by outdoor use of GMOs to the level of precaution being taken,” said Council’s Team Leader - Futures Planning Dr Kerry Grundy.

“This approach, which is evolving across the world, requires decision makers to exercise caution, including banning or postponing activities when there is uncertainty (including scientific uncertainty) and insufficient information, about situations that could have high potential costs and/or be irreversible.

Dr Grundy said the community had been voicing concerns about GMOs for the past 10 years.

“People have expressed their concerns through a number of different forums including a 7,000 signature petition in 2001/02, submissions on Annual Plans, Long Term Council Community Plans, Long Term Plans, District Plans and a Colmar Brunton survey undertaken in 2009. Tangata whenua have also expressed ongoing concerns in Iwi/Hapu Management Plans and other mediums.

He said an the Inter-Council Working Party (‘the Working Party’) on GMO Risk Evaluation and Management Options was formed in 2003 to respond to these concerns. It is made up of the councils in Northland and Auckland including Whangarei District Council, Far North District Council, Kaipara District Council, Auckland Council and Northland Regional Council.

The Working Party commissioned a number of reports on how local authorities could manage the risks of GMOs, in dialogue with the community, iwi and hapu, between local authorities in the northern region and with other local authorities throughout the country.

The Working Party established that GMOs are a significant resource management issue in the northern region and that the community wanted a precautionary approach to be taken by Councils.

It established that including GMO provisions in the District plans of the Northland Councils and the Auckland Unitary Plan would be the most appropriate way to address concerns over the use of GMOs.

Whangarei District Council is now proposing this change to the Whangarei District Plan, collaboratively with the Far North District Council, which is notifying a similar GMO plan change to be included in its District Plan.

Dr Grundy said the submission period for the Whangarei and Far North plan changes has been timed to align with the Auckland Unitary Plan process, which is one year into its special three year statutory timeframe. The normal plan change process is two years. The aim is for the three Councils’ GMO plan changes to progress together and share resources where possible.

What are genetically modified organisms?

A GMO is an organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques in a laboratory, along with other organisms derived from those GMOs.

A wide range of genetically modified products are being researched and developed for commercialisation. While the GMOs commercialised to date are in general directed at reducing harvest losses by combating pests and viruses, research into future varieties is attempting to considerably widen the scope of genetically modified uses.

Most genetic modification use in New Zealand is in contained environments, such as laboratories, and it is predominantly used as a tool for research. At present there are no genetically modified crops grown commercially in New Zealand. There are two genetic modification field trials operating in New Zealand presently, which include research on pine trees (Scion) and genetically engineered cattle, sheep or goats (AgResearch). Research is also occurring in New Zealand and overseas regarding genetically modified pastoral grasses.

Keeping opportunities open

The proposal leaves the door open for GMO activities to be reviewed if it can be shown that a particular GMO activity would benefit the District or Region over-all, with the risks being managed to the satisfaction of Council and the community. 

That would allow a council or a GMO developer to initiate a plan change (which would be subject to a public consultation process) to shift a GMO activity from prohibited to discretionary status. Such a change would also require standards around liability and monitoring to be set and met.

Make a submission

Plan change 131 – Genetically Modified Organisms is open for public submissions from 15 July until 4pm 9 September 2014. To make a submission or for further information please click on the following link.  

or contact Melissa Needham, Senior Policy Planner on 09 470 3040.


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